The real ‘Joe Burge’ of ‘Old Melbourne Memories’.
‘C’ was reading a centenary book in which was written the following, “at Squattlesea Mere, near Dunmore, Joe Burge, an Irish servant of squatter Thomas Browne, had built a sod hut ‘as he was accustomed to doing at home’.”
Both ‘C’ and I knew that Thomas Browne did not have a servant named ‘Joe Burge’ and that the invented name was a pseudonym that Browne had used for his English, not Irish, servant in his book, ‘Old Melbourne memories.’ (OMM) A book that was written by Browne 40 years after his residence at ‘Squattlesea Mere’ about his memories of his youth in the district. It was a very romanticized version of squatting life written to appeal to his literary followers.
Browne himself wrote (unpublished autobiography) “Joe Burge was born and brought up in the pottery district of Staffordshire.” So why did the author of the book assume that ‘Joe Burge’ was an Irishman who was accustomed to building so huts back home? I can see that she wanted an analogy to support the context of the Irish Catholic community she was writing about and I suspect she used second-hand material as the quote she copied was not in OMM that she attributed it to. Therefore, the assumption that Joe Burge was the servant’s real name and that he was Irish was someone else’s error.
It appears that some authors and family historians are too quick to attribute certain characteristics, emotions and motives to our early ancestors that might be far from the truth.
So who was the real ‘Joe Burge’? Thomas Browne answers that question himself in a letter written to a friend in 1898, “my old servant – Thos Pye – who is mentioned in ‘Old Melbourne Memories’ as ‘Joe Burge’.”
Thomas Pye was an Englishman – a brick and tile maker from Staffordshire and the West Midlands. Where he learnt to build sod huts is unknown but Browne tells us he was very versatile and had “picked up a fair notion of the leading agricultural industry which he used to some purpose in the new country.” Thomas Pye spent the first 40 years of his life in England and seven years in the colonies before he build the hut at Squattlesea Mere – plenty of life experience to learn such a skill.